Updated: Jun 16, 2020
What is genuine Savon de Marseille?
The humble Marseille soap cube holds an important place in the cultural and industrial heritage of Provence. Better known as Savon de Marseille, it's been manufactured in France’s oldest city for over 600 years, using a traditional process, and by combining only natural organic ingredients. Indeed a law decreed in 1688 stipulated the strict methods which must be employed before the soap can be classed as Savon de Marseille.
Why is it so Highly Prized?
Containing only natural vegetable oils, a minimum of which must be 72% Olive oil, Savon de Marseille is moisturising and nourishing, pH neutral, without additives, hypoallergenic, naturally biodegradable and ecologically-friendly.
Grated, shredded or blended, Savon de Marseille can be used in a variety of ways around the house and has been the workhorse of French kitchens, laundry rooms and greenhouses for centuries. It's also very economical, because you can use this soap for 2 to 3 months, and its pure and gentle characteristics are renowned the world over for soothing even the most sensitive skin and even recommended by dermatologists.
Beware the Pretender.
Unfortunately however, in recent years due to its popularity, there has been a marked increase in the appearance of look-alike soaps which don't contain the same benefits. Similar in appearance, and even bearing the Savon de Marseille name and stamp, many of these counterfeit products are being been made in countries such as Malaysia, China and Taiwan. Most use artificial additives such as fragrance or colourants, meaning they aren’t actually 100% organic, and in fact many are made from palm oil, or even worse - animal fat.
Why is this happening?
It’s a long story, but to cut it short, there was never any patent or protection laws put in place meaning that anyone, anywhere, could make soap and call it Savon de Marseille. Fake Marseille soap could therefore be legally produced in Asia, with ingredients that could come from anywhere, and the nature and quality of which do not meet any regulatory requirements.
To protect the genuine Savon de Marseille, the last four remaining genuine soap manufacturers formed a union, L’union des Professionnels du Savon de Marseille (UPSM) and approached the French Ministry asking for three specific criteria to be addressed; the composition, the method of manufacture and the geographic origin. Although they managed to achieve European official Protected Geographic recognition of origin and quality (PGI), it does not give them full protection and consequently, fake soaps are still being made elsewhere in the world.
How to Recognise Real Savon de Marseille?
Luckily there are some tricks on how to identify the real deal. While these days, 95% of Marseille soaps are not authentic, a few clues will help you recognise when it is. Genuine Marseille soap should be in a cube or bar shape, in hues from green through to beige, depending on its age. It should bear a stamp on all six sides, and not contain more than six natural ingredients. It should not contain any colouring, perfume or additives, and especially no animal fat, and of course, it must be made in Marseille by one of the four members of the UPSM.
Looks aren’t everything!
Counterfeit soaps can appear convincing, so take care to read the composition and origin of the ingredients on the packaging, or in the description if you order it on the Internet. Genuine Savon de Marseille soap must not contain any added fragrances, colourings or preservatives and be exclusively made from vegetable oils.
In fact, genuine Savon de Marseille should only contain four main ingredients, olive oil, soda, water and salt, so here’s what you should look for:
Sodium olivate: which is saponified Olive oil. (In the case of genuine Savon de Marseille, this is derived from olives traditionally grown in Provence).
Sodium hydroxide: popularly known as caustic soda or lye. (In the case of genuine Savon de Marseille, this is derived from the ashes of sea asparagus and other marine plants grown in the brine lagoons or étangs of the Camargue region).
Sodium chloride: simply, salt.
Some Savon de Marseille may also contain:
Sodium cocoate: saponified coconut oil (copra denotes coconut flesh) which produces a more foaming soap that hardens faster.
But there is one handy tip to check its authenticity: The oil content of Marseille soap makes it float! Simply put it in water, and if it floats, it’s genuine! Oh, and it also gives off a particular smell, sometimes quite strong and not always pleasant for a nose used to products from the cosmetic industry.
Be Sure and Verify your Purchase.
Lastly, always buy your Savon de Marseille from a reputable source. The Traditional Savon de Marseille that we sell is made by the famous Savonnerie du Fer à Cheval in Marseille, who are part of the UPSM and carries the "Savon de Marseille" label.
The four genuine manufacturers are:
Always look for these labels: